Progressive Christianity’s Half-Jesus is No Jesus at All

By Tom Gilson Published on February 23, 2024

“On the Cross, Jesus sided with the marginalized, oppressed and despised. The resurrection was God’s affirmation of that choice and, in his ‘coming out’ of the tomb, Jesus offered hope, possibility, love and welcome.”

So said Professor Susan Shaw in a lecture last year to homosexual and transgender “welcoming and affirming” Baptist churches. So say a thousand others I’ve seen, taking pieces of truth about Jesus and trying to mold the whole of Him out of it. “Jesus’ mission was all about love, especially for the lesser among us. If He were alive today He would open His arms to everyone.” You have never met anyone who was so insistent on doing things his own way, while also being known for having great love for others.

That’s the kind of distorted version you get from taking part of the truth about Jesus and treating it as the whole truth about Him. The “affirming” churches aren’t the first to do it. Plenty of people in the Gospels thought they’d seen all they needed of Jesus when they’d only seen part of Him. It wasn’t just His enemies. His friends, His disciples, even His family made the mistake.

Mary: “Jesus, you’re our son. How could you treat us so?”

Men of Nazareth: “Jesus, you’re Joseph’s son. That makes you one of ours, our hometown boy!”

Satan: “Jesus, you’re the Son of God. You could jump off the roof of the temple and not get hurt. Scripture even says so!”

The crowds: “Jesus, You’re the King, so what are You waiting for? Let’s get on with it! Freedom!”

Peter: “Jesus, you’re our Messiah. How could you even think of letting yourself be killed on the a cross?”

Pharisees: “Jesus, it’s the Sabbath. Behave yourself!”

More Pharisees: “Jesus, you claim to be a Man of God. How can you dine with sinners?”

Half Right Isn’t Right

If you’ve read the Gospels you know these incidents well enough. Did you notice they all start out perfectly true? Even the Devil got the first half right!

The account with Mary is especially interesting. It’s in Luke 2:41-49, where Jesus stays behind in Jerusalem while Joseph and Mary head home toward Nazareth. They find Him at last in the temple. Mary asks, “Son, why have you treated us so? … Your father and I have been searching for you.” Jesus answers, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

It’s subtle but you’ll see it if you look: They were His parents. True, but not true enough. Joseph was His adoptive father, God was His true Father.

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The second event was in Nazareth, the scene recorded in Luke 4:16-30. Jesus reads and teaches from Scripture, and “All spoke well of him … And they said, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?'” Jesus says (paraphrased), “No one recognizes a prophet for who he is in his home town. So rather than comply with your ‘hometown boy’ plans for me, I’ll go ahead and remind you how much God loves Gentiles.”

True, He grew up in Nazareth. Not true enough, though: He wasn’t going to be owned by them. They tried throwing Him off a cliff for it. The devil’s words to Jesus were true, but not true enough. Jesus answered with a firm and scriptural no of His own. Peter was right that Jesus was the Christ — but not right enough. He wanted Jesus safe from dying, but Jesus shot back at Him, “Get behind me, Satan!”

Loving, Not Accommodating

They saw something true about Jesus, all right. Their mistake was making it the whole truth about Him. Read the Gospels and see how consistently, persistently, He insisted on being who He was, not who anyone else wanted Him to be. You can bet plenty of people walked away from Him scowling and muttering, “Stubborn, stubborn, stubborn! I wish the man would cooperate for a change.”

Jesus didn’t come to cooperate. He didn’t come to be who people wanted Him to be. God doesn’t need us telling Him who He should be. Jesus came to start a spiritual revolution in His name, done His way, according to His word and His standards, through His grace, by faith, including repentance. That’s who He was, that was His message and mission, and He refused to be budged off of it.

You have never met anyone with such great love for others, yet so insistent on doing things His way.

You have never met anyone with such great love for others, yet so insistent on doing things His way. The two traits stand in such great contrast to each other, you’d think no one could do it. Jesus did. It’s one more way in which He is just astonishingly unique.

He gladly accommodated Himself to others’ needs, but only up to a limit. He never budged one inch on His identity, His mission, His message, or His authority.

Taking His Name in Vain

My last example in the list above (“More Pharisees”) is especially interesting in this light. The Pharisees in His day told Him in effect, “Enough of being so accepting toward sinners. You have to have standards!” Progressives in our day flip that backwards: “Enough of having those standards. Jesus accepted sinners, so if you’re going to be a Christian you have to accept sinners!” Both of them build their ethics on half-truths. Both of them are wrong.

True enough, Jesus accepted sinners, but building an ethical system on your favorite parts of Jesus’ message is the same as building a “Jesus” who rubber-stamps your own beliefs. Why not pull from Matthew 21 instead, where Jesus pronounces woe after woe upon the Pharisees. That’s a an easy answer: No one says the Jesus of Matthew 21 is what Jesus really looks like, because no one wants a Jesus like that.

Progressives in particular craft a “Jesus” to their liking, by pulling from the “loving” and “affirming” messages they prefer. They end up preaching their own views with Jesus’ name on it. Is that not taking His name in vain?

You cannot speak of His welcoming sinners without including the context, which always had to do with repentance. You cannot say He welcomes all without recalling that He welcomes us on His terms only, and His terms are not open for us to change.

See the True Jesus

We’re all prone to seeing less than the full truth of who Jesus was and is. The one best protection against it is to study Him closely. Read the Gospels, re-read them, and re-read them some more. Jesus Himself showed us, over and over again, how He would only be who He was, all of Him, in all His grace, all His truth, all His Kingliness, all the reality that He is the Judge, and all the rest of Him I do not have space to mention here.

The next best way to guard against the error is to listen to voices from different places and different eras. They may not see Jesus for all He is, for as C.S. Lewis pointed out once, we all make mistakes, but they made different mistakes. Seek what’s true in what they say.

Progressive Christians claim the only right way to follow Jesus is to welcome sinners like He did. If only they did indeed welcome them as He did, with an invitation to follow Him in faith and repentance!

Don’t let them shame you with their false virtue, their message that only they have Jesus right. Don’t settle for less than all of Him.

 

Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.

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